What does a parrot resemble? Only itself. Anyone can hardly confuse it with any other bird. The coloration is unbelievably bright; the entire rainbow is represented on the plumage. (However, there are some species colored monotonously green, olive, brown, and even black.) The hooked beak with a specific joint of the upper mandible with the skull: the upper half of the beak can open up independently of the lower. The lower mandible is mobile too: it can move up, down, and to the sides. The palate, near the end of the beak, has hard parallel indentations like a file. (The lories and some other parrots lack this.) This is to better break-up, "chew" seeds and fruits.
The beak is so strong that it can bite apart the strong shell of nuts. Almost all of the parrots, when they are climbing, grab branches with their beaks. The tongue is meaty, with an indentation at the tip that makes grabbing seeds easier. The lories, who eat plenty of flower pollen and drink nectar, the tip of the tongue has a dense brush of bristles.
The nostrils are feathered in some species, there's a big crop, powder glands. Only some species (the macaws) lack a gland at the base of the tail. Two fingers are aimed forwards, two - backwards, just as the owls, cuckoos, woodpeckers do.
Externally the males and females are similar in most species. The parakeets differentiate only by the color of nostrils; woodpecker and some other parrot species are sexually dimorphic. They're monogamous, save for the kea and possibly the kaka. In many species the partners stay together for life. The majority nests in tree holes (a lining of grass, leaves, sawdust and pulped branches, or there's no lining altogether); in some cases - in cracks of cliffs and in burrows. They nest in termite mounds too (woodpecker parrots, some cockatoo species, lovebirds, etc.).
Some build their own nests: night and swamp parrots and monk parrots. From 1 to 10 white eggs are incubates for 18--35 days, by the female, as a rule. The chicks are born blind, bare-skinned or covered in fluff. The parents feed them from the crops, by chewed up and enriched with vitamins food. For the first 1--3 months, the kea - over 4, stay in the nest.
The sexual maturity of the parakeets is at 3 months, for the bigger species - at a year or more of age. The live for a long time. In captivity - up to 120 years. The smallest woodpecker parrots are no bigger than a kingless, the biggest, the macaws, reach up to a meter in length.
Around 330 species of parrots live in the tropics and subtropics worldwide. In North America - 1 species, the Carolina parrot, now extinct. South Africa and Europe - the only parts in the world with an appropriate climate (in Europe, at least, in the south), where the parrots are absent, but 40--25 MYA they lived in Europe as well. The closest relatives of the parrots, apparently, are pigeons and cuckoos.
One family, 7 subfamilies:
Nestors - 2 species (New Zealand); bristle-headed parrots - 1 species (Papua New Guinea); cockatoos - 17 species (Australia, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi, the Philippines); the woodpecker parrots: they run along the tree trunks as woodpeckers do, push the tails into the bark, feed on tree sap, fruits and insects, nest in arboreal termite mounds - 6 species in Papua New Guinea; the lories - 61 species (Australia, Papua New Guinea and nearby islands); the owl parrots - 1 species (New Zealand); the true parrots - over 200 species in all of the countries where parrots live.
'Parrot' is a strange word. Earlier in time, Chekov himself was surprised. Where it came from is not quite clear. Whether this version is right is not quite clear. The parrot was initially called 'perrot', which is a diminutive version of the name Pierre or is a shorted form of perroquet. In the middle Ages plenty of tame and talkative parrots lived in Vatican. There was even a special job - 'the parrot keeper'.
The parrots came to Europe for the first time when the forces of Alexander of Macedon returned from the eastern wars. They were just as plentiful in Rome as the peacocks were. The crazy emperor Heliogabalus fed both of them to the lions in his zoo, even though the parrots were quite pricey: they cost more than the slaves did. When America was discovered, even more parrots came to Europe. Columbus was supposedly shown the right course to the nearby land by a flock of parrots, although that is actually doubtful.
And nowadays the parrots are very popular among the bird fans. The cockatoos are common prisoners of such sort. White or black, usually crow-sized, with a big crest on the head. A less noticeable detail is the wide lower mandible; the upper one is partially submerged in it. Males hatch the nestlings alongside their females: they differ in this from many other parrots. The black cockatoo is the biggest member of their kind and the parrot with the biggest beak overall: its' beak is a decimetre long - it can easily bite through a finger! ('Cockatoo' comes from the Malaysian word 'cockatua' that means 'pliers'.)
The South American macaw parrots, covered with bluish-yellow, reddish-green and other colourful shades are common guests in zoos. The hyacinth macaw is the biggest parrot in the world, almost a meter long from its beak to the end of its tail. The other macaws (22 species, 8 of which are already exterminated!) are barely smaller than it. The macaws' beak is so powerful that it can bite through iron net two millimetres thick.
Various tamed animals usually live in the Native American settlements, including the macaws. For example, according to the level of necessity before a celebration the natives loan the macaws' beautiful feathers by shamelessly pulling them out. But they pay for the loss inflicted upon the bird by decorations the parrots with ribbons and bows. The macaws have a different advantage too: as well as the guard dogs they warn the villagers with loud hoarse cries when strangers approach the village. They say that the story of the saving of Rome by the geese was repeated on the American continent but with a different set of actors: instead of the Gauls, the Romans and the geese, correspondingly - the Spaniards, the Carribbeans and the parrots.
The macaws are members of the true parrot subfamily. Contrary to the cockatoos, the upper mandible is wider than the lower and its edges hang around it. That subfamily is numerous - it includes the parakeets as well. 130 years ago they were brought to Europe from Australia and since then they are successfully bred there by the million. Yellow, white and blue races were bred. These parakeets are often sold in pet shops, and many people saw them there, of course. And as for those, who wouldn't mind having a pair of parakeets at home, several pieces of advice will not be amiss.
These parrots are best kept in pairs or in big numbers, but not in solitude. They get very miserable. Both toys and mirrors help little here.
Therefore, let us select a male and a female of any coloration or whichever you like best. The male's base of the upper mandible is blue, the female's brown. The very young parakeet has a pink one, it turns blue later. The cage must be no smaller than this: 70x40x30 centimetres. Alongside the narrow sides of the cage - two nesting boxes, 12x12x25 centimetres in size with opening, 4 centimetres in diameter. The floor should be covered somewhat with sawdust.
They should be fed with a cereal mix, cleaned oats or the parrots' food mix from the pet shop. Fresh lettuce and sliced vegetables should be added to the food if not constantly, then as often as possible. It is useful to salt the food somewhat and add to it finely ground eggshell or glycerophosphates of calcium. During spring and summer twigs with buds and leaves of the willows, birches and other trees should be stuck into cage. A drinking dish with fresh water is necessary, though the parakeets do not drink that much.
If everything is in order, then most likely in October - December the female will lay in one of the boxes 3-8 eggs and will hatch them for 18-20 days. The hatchlings are blind and naked. They will open their eyes in a week. They will begin to grow feathers after several more days. They are black-eyed, with pink mandible bases. The parents feed them still, but not for long. At three months of age they are ready to breed.
Parakeets can be taught to talk. They speak with a squeaking accent, in a rush, without 'periods and commas'. Their pronunciation is nothing compared to the big parrots.
The African grey parrot! Now here is a famous speaker! It is grey, with a red tail. Its homeland is the tropical forests of Western African and Congo. The African grey parrot can learn more than one hundred words and phrases. Some it speaks very appropriately and seemingly with meaning. For example, 'Good morning' and 'good bye', 'Hello', when the phone rings. The parrots have absolute hearing; they quickly learn the melodies and can instantly repeat them.
'The African grey parrot of the famous Berlin ornithologist colonel fon Lukanus grew renowned by its exceptional memory. Lukanus, among other birds, had a pet hoopoe named Hopfhen. The parrot that spoke well learned that word. The hoopoe, sadly, did not leave long in captivity... The parrot, seemingly, forgot its name. In any case, it never spoke that name again. Exactly after nine years Lukanus the colonel got himself a new hoopoe and when the parrot saw it for the first time, it immediately said and then repeated: 'Hopfhen... Hopfhen...'' (Conrad Laurence)
The Amazons, 26 species in Tropical America, speak only barely worse than the African grey parrot. In any case, they are not worse than the best 'speakers' among the cockatoos are.
The South American monk parrot is also a decent speaker but from the scientific point of view it is more interesting in another way: it builds big communal nests that, externally, with the use of imagination, resemble castle or monastery towers or a haystack, which is more accurate. The parrots, en masse (some work for real, the others just make noise) build, using sticks, primarily spiky ones, a tower with openings at the lower end. These are entrances to the nesting chambers. Each family has its own apartment in the mutual house, whose diameter may reach one, and sometimes even three meters! Once the 'tower' is built, the monk parrots do not abandon it even after having raised their young. They spend nights there and hide from their enemies. As in any other good home, there are uninvited inhabitants as well. Peaceful ones: Amazon and other local ducks. And dangerous ones: the opossums settle in the upper floors. But they have trouble reaching the parrots' nests under the spiny and firmly weaved 'floor'. The Native Americans are more dangerous than the other enemies are. Wishing to eat the roasts 'chickens' they just set this shared birdhouse afire.
Lovebirds live in Africa. 'One perishes - the other dies from heartbreak'; such an exaggerated opinion about the spousal loyalty of these parrots had determined their strange name. They are indeed attached to each other, but not to such an extent... The lovebirds too have a certain tendency to a 'society': they settle in the collective nests of weaverbirds, in the termite mounds or under the rooftops in the swallows' nests. They build nests in the cracks of cliffs too. The twigs and grasses used in their nests they move in a very original method, found only among the par-rots, especially in the hanging parrots. They stick them into the back feathers and fly so with a load behind the shoulders!
Many lovebirds, however, are carrying their building material in their beaks according to the old times' sake. But in those species that load their backs, the scientists after attentively examining their feathers found 'additional firmness' among its qualities. And after that science was introduced to a new, completely unexpected meaning of 'transporting plumage'!
Like the monk parrots, the lovebirds rest in their nests, spend the nights there and hide from their enemies. Even when the female is hatching their 5-6 eggs (that is a lot), the male spends the night there, in the nest. And other parrots have such habits. Therefore, generally speaking, the proper scientific explanation that the birds do not spend nights in their nests needs a well-known addition: some parrots and weaverbirds, wrens, river tits and some others do!
The hanging parrots, when they are carrying the nesting material, the shards of bark and leaves stick not only into the plumage on their backs, but chest and neck as well. The ten species of the hanging parrots live in the countries of South Asia from Bombay to Australia. Generally, they are green with red and blue, just as the lovebirds are. They are similar to them, closely related in the parrot family, but are smaller: the size of a chickadee or slightly bigger. They quickly jump through the branches or on the ground. They eat fruits, nectar, flower pollen, and drink the juice of the coconut palms. Their love games are special: they do not touch each other with their beaks, but delicately give each other the best pieces, grabbing them with the tip of the beak (the ritual feeding, found in other birds as well).
The hanging parrots sleep as bats do, hanging on a branch upside down. And often holding onto the branch with just one leg...
Supposedly the parrots are monotonous in both appearance and way of life. Noisy, quite smart, bright children of sunny, hot lands. Fruits, berries, nuts, bulbs, juicy shoots, flower nectar - all year round the evergreen forests give that to the parrots in plenty, enough for a carefree life. In general that is all so. However there are exceptions. Some prefer to live in the mountains, in a sufficiently grim climate, with snowy winters. Even their hatchlings are hatched in winter, as in the case of our crossbills. That is the kea, New Zealand's 'slayer of sheep'! But it will appear somewhat later.
Others resemble ostriches in a certain sense, having forgotten flight. The thirds - owls and nightjars, preferring dark nights to bright days.
The night parrot, regretfully, is almost completely exterminated in Australia. During the day it sleeps, hidden in a tangle of spiny branches and grasses. Its' nest is located there as well, built on the ground from twigs and grasses. At night it moves on foot, barely flying, searching for seeds of spiny plants among which it lives.
The land or swamp parrots of Australia and Tasmania, as well as New Zealand's running parrots, kakariksos, also fly only little. They feed not only the tree branches, as the proper parrots should, but on the ground, digging through leaves with their feet, as chickens do. They build their nests of branches and roots on the ground. Sometimes they lay their half a dozen eggs on the bare ground. The nestlings are born in black fluff - even their dung is black! - a disguise, quite appropriate for coal bogs, where the grounded parrots live. Sadly, these interesting birds are also almost all exterminated.
The parrot that forgot to fly is the kakapo. It can only glide a bit, for one hundred meters, downwards, from a tree to the ground. The wings are present, but the muscles that move them are too weak for flight, and the keel on the breastbone, where these muscles attach, is absent as well. The bones are heavy, without air spaces. The kakapo is the only member of the owl parrot subfamily and when meeting it, we are saying good-bye to the true parrots.
The feathers around the beak and eyes of the kakapo form a stiff frame resembling the face plumage, the "mirror" of the owl. The way of life is also correspondingly nocturnal. On foot, through the paths made by it in the first place, late in the evening this olive-brown, crow-sized, owl parrot leaves its hiding places where it had slept during the day, "having hid its head under the wing". It moves meekly, "stalking as a cat", from one shrub to another. When it finds a juicy fern frond, it "chews" it. Berries, moss, mushrooms, fern roots are eaten as well - it's a quite peculiar vegetarian. What it cannot digest, it excretes.
Only two eggs - and taking a yearlong break between them - the females of this species hatch in deep cracks of the cliffs, under roots and in burrows.
"In a strange way all of these birds make nests, apparently, simultaneously in the same year. At that time, during the nights, the hoarse cries of the males, resembling the voices of the bitterns, are heard from the leking places. The kakapo males are the only parrots that have voice sacs that can blow up" (K. Kollar).
In the mountain rain forests of the South island of New Zealand some kakapos have survived. Foxes and possums, stoats, ferrets and martens, rats, cats, dogs, hedgehogs and other mammals, introduced to the kakapo's homeland, from which they were absent for millions of years, not counting the bats, threaten to destroy the last of the owl parrots.
With a "carnivorous cruelty" the kea pays the white settlers for the extermination of its kin, and there are a lot of them - 17 species! Something unexpected had happened to that parrot. The kea fed peacefully on various greens and insects, until great ships came to the shores of their island and strange bleating animals came on them. The parrots came to like the taste of sheep: forgetting their vegetarianism, they quickly learned to eat them "live"! First they fed the refuse at the slaughterhouses. Then they learned to "gut" the dead sheep themselves, to finish off the sick ones and those stuck in snow. They began to attack the live sheep: perch on their backs and tear with sharp beaks the fat and meat, "reaching the kidneys". The sheep flees, trying to throw off the terrible rider. But the parrot catches up to it once more. Blood flows from the ripped wounds; the wounded sheep dies or falls off a cliff. The parrots gather to it and the feast begins.
So the sheepherders said. The government issued a reward of a pound of sterling for a dead par-rot. A high price. Tens of thousands of them were slaughtered, but the carnivorous parrots did not diminish in New Zealand's mountains. In our time the complaints about them have not so much as stopped, as died somewhat down.
Scientists Jackson and Merrier tried - not going on via rumours, but via their own eyes - to find out, if the kea is such a pest for sheep farming.
The former decided that parrots, possibly, do attack the sick and stuck in snow sheep. Without any bad intent they also land on the backs of the healthy sheep, and the latter, from fear, in panic, sometimes run off cliffs and perish. However such occurrences are quite rare, and the kea, as a rare bird, deserves protection and not slaughter.
Merrier assumes that a parrots' flock has several old, experienced in hunting, birds that sometimes do kill the sheep. All parrots feast together. But again that does not happen very often. They usually eat the already dead sheep, therefore the keas, acting as orderlies, are even useful: during the winter many sheep die in the mountains.
Zoos in Europe have tested the keas taste: horsemeat, butter and fat were eaten willingly by them.
"Sheep slayer" parrots live in the mountains about the forest zone. Even in snowstorms they wander the ice fields, digging with their beaks in the snow. Brownish-olive in colour with reddish tails, they got relatively long beaks. European tourists, coming there to ski, mistake them in the distance for crows. But the curious parrot comes close and the mistake is soon seen.
The mating relations of the keas are quite peculiar and unusual for parrots. The young, two-year-old female finds an appropriate crack, hole under the roots or a fallen, rotting tree trunk for its nest. Sometimes it deepens the burrow up to seven meters. It widens the nesting chamber, lines it with moss and ferns, twigs and leaves. It has a lot of time for that: the building lasts for a year or two. And until it is ready, some old and energetic male - married long ago, and several times! - courts it, ignoring the energetic protests of its old spouse. It feeds the young female with first-rate produce. In June - July, the middle of the local winder, or later, during any month before January, the female lays 2-4 eggs and hatches them for a month. When it departs the burrow to feed during morning or evening (these parrots, generally, are crepuscular and nocturnal) its cavalier is usually waiting for the female with a treat. Once the nestlings hatch, the male does not forget them either: it brings them food. The mother shares it among the offspring. Later the male feeds them itself. And for a long time: the young sons - for almost three months, and daughters - over four. Because the former, as soon as they learn how to fly, leave it, and the females live for another forty-five days dependent on their parents. Their mother abandons them, but their father protects and feeds them. If one keeps in mind that that male has several such families, one cannot not be impressed by such a father!
Also, this is the most ancient of all parrots - from the decimated tribe, or rather a subfamily of Nestoridae. New Zealand's forest parrot kaka and kea - they are the only survivors of this tribe. A third parrot - the nestor, thin-billed Philippinean parrot - died out in the middle of 19th century.
The lories are cheerful, friendly, "talkative", spotted, brightly, essentially "abstractly" coloured small parrots, pigeon-sized and smaller. They are easily tamed, enduring in captivity, can live freely even in a warm winter. Some species smell of flowers, for example of hyacinths, others - of musk. Their tongue is shaped differently, unlike the other parrots - with a 'brush' on the tip: thusly it is easier to get nectar and pollen from flowers. The lories almost do not eat seeds, nuts and hard fruits. This must be remembered by anyone, who acquired a parrot from the lories' family: it must be fed a mix of honey, flower pollen, small insects and juicy fruits. The seeds can be given in small number, for appetizers.
When in the 1930s Europe was hit by an epidemic of a mysterious disease with certain symptoms of a strong flu and lung inflammation, and it was discovered that in many cases it was spread by parrots, the governments all over the place forbade the introduction of parrots. The disease was called psittacosis, "parrot fever". Later it was discovered that almost all of the birds are sensitive to this virus - pigeons, chickens, ducks, thrushes, canaries, gulls, storm petrels - around one hundred species of birds, as far as we know that for now. You can catch this disease even from a cat, which is now called ornitosis, "bird fever". Antibiotics cure it very well. Since avoiding the contact with all the birds that are potential hosts of it, at least in case of pigeons and chickens, is impossible, there is no reason to fear the parrots either.